Sotheby's are selling an extraordinary fragment of history: the remnants of the flag flown from the HMS Victory at the Battle of Trafalgar. Country Life's Toby Keel reports

On Wednesday (17 January) Sotheby will be auctioning  over 250 royal and aristocratic heirlooms. Among the items for sale are 79 which either belonged or related to Lord Horatio Nelson, the greatest naval hero in British history.

The pick of items – and the one carrying the highest estimate, at £80,000-£100,000 – is a large remnant of the Union Jack which flew from the HMS Victory during the Battle of Trafalgar, they key encounter which effectively ended Napoleon’s hopes of winning dominance over Britain at sea.

Nelson was killed during the battle – shot by a French musketeer – with his body being preserved in a barrel of brandy for return to Britain, where a hero’s funeral awaited. And it seems that the flag from HMS Victory that day was also saved, or at least the fragment from the top left corner which is for sale on Wednesday.

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Also in the auction is Nelson’s personal grog chest (expected to fetch £35-£45,000) which includes a set of fine decanters; and also a packet of his love letters to Emma, Lady Hamilton, with whom he had an open affair lasting form 1798 until his death.

Nelson's personal grog chest

Nelson’s personal grog chest

Beyond the Nelson-related objects Sotheby’s have a number of other items in the sale described as, “furniture, paintings, decorative arts and precious objects having belonged to important European dynasties and historical figures, including the Duchesse du Berry, the House of Bourbon and a number of German princely families.”

A replica set of the Crown Jewels is one of the items for sale – a set re-created in 1953 by Robert White & Sons, based in Neal’s Yard in Covent Garden to mark the Queen’s coronation. Several such sets were made and put on display around the country.

One of the replica sets of the British Crown Jewels made in honour of the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953 (est. £5000- 7000)

One of the replica sets of the British Crown Jewels made in honour of the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953 (est. £5000- 7000)

João Magalhães, Sotheby’s Senior Specialist in Continental Furniture, says that the ‘Of Royal and Noble’ sale has been four years in the making, and describing it as, “an unmissable event for art lovers looking equally for fantastic property with great provenance and whimsical objects with a great story to tell.”